offbeat history

The Mystery of the Devil’s Footprints

In February 1855, mysterious prints that looked like hoof marks appeared all over the English seaside county of Devon. But figuring out who or what made those prints is a puzzle that continues to befuddle people.

The Crash at Crush and Other Train Wreck Spectacles

For a brief window from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, people in the United States were watching train wrecks for fun. These staged spectacles would draw thousands and thousands of paying onlookers, but why exactly were they so popular?

Marchesa Luisa Casati

While many have admired heiress Casati over the years for her life led entirely based on her aesthetics, when you examine her biography, you find a woman who was incredibly selfish and was even described by close friends as megalomaniacal.

The Scopes Trial

The Scopes Trial, aka the Monkey Trial, played out in Dayton, Tennessee, in the summer of 1925. It all stemmed from a state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution.

Lisztomania

Franz Liszt was a pianist, a composer and a conductor, and basically the first rock star who drove fans into fits of swooning and screaming. Some fans even stole the detritus of his life (unfinished coffee, broken piano strings) to carry with them. Read the show notes here.

The American Hippo Ranch Plan, Part 2

Once the effort to import hippos to the U.S. got the backing of a politician, two men with wild and intertwined histories, Frederick Russel Burnham and Fritz Duquesne, were brought on board to serve as experts and advocates. Read the show notes here.

The American Hippo Ranch Plan, Part 1

In 1910, the U.S. had a meat shortage and a water hyacinth overgrowth problem. The obvious solution to the double dilemma: Import hippos from Africa.

A Brief History of Time Capsules

People feel very strongly about time capsules, even though the contents are often a little underwhelming. What actually qualifies as a time capsule, and what are some of the most notable ones? Read the show notes here, including a correction about some State House confusion.

The Lady Who Turned to Soap

Saponification is the process of turning to soap, and in certain conditions, cadavers do it. The Soap Lady is one of the most famous cases of an adipocere-covered corpse, but there are many like her.

The Great Moon Hoax of 1835, Part 2

As the New York Sun's series of astonishing moon discoveries concluded, most people recognized that it was a hoax. But what made people buy into the tall tale in the first place? Read the show notes here.